Dead Goat Polo Arcade Game

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with a common-law wife, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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Some of you may have seen the amazing Soviet Arcade Machines Museum; this is up that same socialist alley: I started out trying to import a Polski Fiat from Poland, and somehow ended up with this: an old, beaten Ulak-Tartysh video game.

Ulak-Tartysh, for those of you not familiar with carcass-based sports, is essentially polo played with the headless body of a dead goat. It's popular in Central Asia, and especially in Kyrgyzstan, which is where this fascinating game hails from. This one appears to have been built in 1983, at some state-run electronics factory in the city of Mailuu-Suu. The coin slots say "15 Kopeks," but I think at that time all the USSR satellite states used that denomination.

I'm a big fan of 8-bit era games, and this sample from behind the Iron Curtain is especially fascinating. It's based on what appears to be a KR1858VM1 chip, which was a copy of the Z80. Most of the other chips are TTL logic ones, with very little large-scale integration. The video seems to be about 148x116 (?) with what I think are 8 colors. The graphics have that really satisfying gigantic-pixel look, but I think are pretty nicely rendered, considering.

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I got it here as a strange sort of compensation when a warehouse owner in Poland was unable to ship the Fiat like we had agreed; apparently, this machine was just sitting, forgotten, in a corner of the warehouse. To restore it, I cleaned up the case, and replaced the power supply system with a cobbled-together 110V unit, from the 220V it originally had. I've made repairs, and had to replace the screen/CRT, but beyond that it's as I got it. I left the case in its battered state, but the marquee cleaned up surprisingly well. I'm not sure of what all the words mean, but via an online Kyrgz dictionary, it seems the TAPT button means "grab" or something similar, and I think it says "GOOD!" (pronounced "Djackshi?) when you get a goal.

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It was on display at the last i am 8 bit art show here in LA, and it proved itself to be a playable, if not too exciting, game. MyTarpit posted a bit more about it here, and, more excitingly, there should be a BoingBoingVideo segment featuring it on its way soon.

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  1. Cartoonist and Central Asia politics buff has an excellent section on his personal experience with Buzkashi in his book Silk Road to Ruin.

  2. Some would argue that polo is essentially Ulak-Tartysh played without the headless body of a dead goat.

  3. The “amazing Soviet Arcade Machines Museum” hyperlink in the text is not functional.

  4. It’s interesting that the styling of the cabinet, controls, and marquee are very similar to Western arcade games of its era. The East German Poly-Play had a very different aesthetic.

  5. I think it was National Geographic that ran a pictorial on Buzkashi years ago, like in the late 80’s. Allegedly, it gets pretty competitive, with players using swords, knives and guns on each other.

  6. In 1983, Kyrgyzstan (or Kirghizia as it was then) wasn’t a Soviet satellite state, it was part of the Soviet Union (the Kirghiz SSR). Soviet satellite states, like Poland, had their own currencies (for instance, the zloty). In the Kirghiz SSR, the currency was the rouble, divided into kopecks, just like in the RSFSR (Russia) and the rest of the USSR, but in the Kyrgyz language they used their own words (som, divided into tyiyns) for it. The current currency of Kyrgyzstan is also the som, divided into tyiyns.

  7. I don’t know enough about the emulation world to know if this is even possible, but if Ulak-Tartysh could be ROM imaged into something that could be played on MAME, I would (play it) – with gusto!

  8. The Soviet Arcade Machines Museum is excellent! I love the digital foosball contraption. Anyone know what the crated boxes signify?

  9. I really enjoyed reading about this, and am very thankful for the link above to the East German Poly-Play.

    Here’s a link to an article about the Soviet Arcade Games Museum, for what it’s worth.

  10. Is there a way for the owner of this treasure to get a ROM dump of this, and some way to play it? I would pay a lot of money just for the ROM.

    I have a professor who has expressed his great desire to play boz-kashi, but his health won’t permit him to ride a horse.

  11. It is great but if it’s just a joke machine i don’t think it belongs in MAME D: how can you determine this was actually an obscure arcade game and not something Jason Torchinsky built?
    Maybe you can get it added to MisfitMAME tho.

  12. Reply to comment #4

    > It’s interesting that the styling of the
    > cabinet, controls, and marquee are very
    > similar to Western arcade games of its
    > era. The East German Poly-Play had a very
    > different aesthetic.

    Hi there!

    The cabinet styling is similar because it is one. That cabinet was actually a Dragon’s Lair cabinet that was converted to that game.

  13. I started out trying to import a Polski Fiat from Poland, and somehow ended up with this: an old, beaten Ulak-Tartysh video game.

    The ultimate typo.

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